“…These things were told Vespasian by deserters; for although the seditious watched all the passages out of the city, and destroyed all, whosoever they were, that came thither, yet were there some that had concealed themselves, and when they had fled to the Romans, persuaded their general to come to their city’s assistance, and save the remainder of the people; informing him withal, that it was upon account of the people’s good-will to the Romans that many of them were already slain, and the survivors in danger of the same treatment. Vespasian did indeed already pity the calamities these men were in, and arose, in appearance, as though he was going to besiege Jerusalem, but in reality to deliver them from a [worse] siege they were already under. However, he was obliged first to overthrow what remained elsewhere, and to leave nothing out of Jerusalem behind him that might interrupt him in that siege…”
– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4, 7:2-3
Josephus is constantly trying to convince us that the Romans are fulfilling Jewish prophecy by destroying Jerusalem. In this case, it would appear that Vespasian was fulfilling an a prophecy from Daniel about the end times, when he set his face to go to Jerusalem:
“And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision; but they shall fall. So the king of the north shall come, and cast up a mount, and take the most fenced cities: and the arms of the south shall not withstand, neither his chosen people, neither shall there be any strength to withstand… He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him…”
– Daniel 11:14-17
So the satirical version of this fulfillment of prophecy combines all of these details in an ironic way:
“And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.”
– Luke 9:51-56
Of course, Vespasian was going to Jerusalem to save the Jews, that’s why Jesus’ face looked like one that was going to (besiege) Jerusalem. I never understood what it meant to set your face to go to Jerusalem, nor how to identify someone with a Jerusalem-set face before. Now after all these years it finally does make perfect sense.
Explanation: You have to remember that at this point in the history Nero is still the deified emperor of the inhabitable earth, so he is represented as God and Vespasian is the one sent to do the will of God on earth (Israel), so he is the son of God. Remember that in Greek satire the characters represent more of a role to play (or even just a force of nature) than a specific person. Who the character represents is more fluid in satire and in Greek tragedy, this is not an encoding of Josephus but a commentary on it, imitating him in ironic ways. It is ironic that Josephus says that Vespasian is going to Jerusalem to save the Jews, because as we know the end of the story, they all get killed by the Romans. So, ironically, Jesus imitates that and has his face set to go to Jerusalem and doesn’t want his followers to destroy the Jews because he is coming to save them. Why does everyone keep thinking he is coming to destroy men’s lives, just because he has this giant Roman army following him around destroying every village they come to? Jeez. Don’t you know he is their saviour!
Now, the works of Josephus, pretty much everyone agrees, are basically Roman propaganda. Josephus (whose entire nation was just slaughtered in front of his eyes over 3.5 years) was constantly praising the Romans (probably just to save his own life, but maybe he actually believed it or convinced himself to believe it) and saying that God’s favor had gone over to the Romans and painting their actions in a good light. So if we were to write a satire of Josephus we would exaggerate that, we would call Rome the kingdom of God. Then all you need to do is remove all those bad sounding words like besiege and slaughter and say, since we are praising them as the ones doing God’s work on earth. Matthew describes it like this:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea… and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away… Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”
– Matthew 13:47-52
“Every Christian writer mixes the old with the new, Christianity is like if you gather stuff from the sea and cast out the stuff you don’t like and keep the stuff you like. Get it? Yeah! Jesus!”
The Gospels do this, removing the bad and keeping just the good to paint the Romans in a good light because they are imitating and exaggerating what they see the works of Josephus doing, being Roman propaganda. So, to write a Gospel making fun of Josephus we will replace those bad words like “besiege” and slaughter” with words with things like “baptize” and “heal” and “cast out devils”, paint everything in a better light and hide the bad stuff even better. So in this case if you remove “besiege” then Jesus “arose in appearance to go to Jerusalem” or he had “his face set as though he would go to Jerusalem”. It sounds funny, but only if you know the reference does it make any sense. That is how satire works.
Then Josephus tells us that the Jews, out of good will to the Romans, were killing a bunch of their own people. That sounds insane. What a great kingdom of God where we kill each other to make God happy. How can Josephus be praising these guys? So we make fun of that and put those guys who were showing their “good will” to the Romans as the disciples of Jesus, James and John who say “Lord, shall we rain down fire from heaven on these guys out of our good will to you?” But Josephus just told us that Vespasian came only in appearance to besiege Jerusalem, “but in reality, to deliver them”! Didn’t you know, he is the son of God, he came to save the Jews (which he did a wonderful job of, I might add). So we make fun of that by having Jesus say “the son of man is come to save men’s lives, not destroy them!” he, he, he. It is ironic because actually he did destroy them all in the end, even though Josephus tells us he went to deliver them.
So this small passage from the Bible has three jokes in it: 1) Jesus had his face set to go to Jerusalem, 2) Jesus’ disciples kill their own people “out of their good will to him” and 3) Jesus is come to save the people, not destroy them. It’s hilarious, but they always say a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it. Anyway, I hope this helps to understand it. This parallel is, therefore, quite solid, it fits the same pattern and style of satire repeated hundreds of times and has four plot points in common. These two passages tell pretty much the exact same story.